Content Insider #131 -- The Cloud
The Pros, Cons of Working, Playing in the Clouds
By Miles Weston
It's the way IT people have been explaining their systems to their bosses for years. When all the country's computers were connected to keep data flowing even after someone dropped the BIG ONE, they drew a cloud.
When Microsoft wanted to show they were hip, with it, Ballmer started showing people how the real cloud was going to function.
Clear Clouds -- MS's Ballmer probably produced the best picture of cloud computing during an interview with the NY Times. Looking at his diagram, it's easy to see why so many CEOs are buying in. They say to themselves, "Geezz, I don't get it, but I'm not going to admit it because its gotta' be good." Sometimes folks . . . sometimes! Source -- NYTimes
Each time the cloud has been introduced, it's been better. . . it's been faster. . . it's been more expensive.
Heavy Lifting -- Every time cloud computing has been "introduced," the big sell for it is the staff cost savings. In times like these, it has even greater appeal. But this time, it is closer -- just closer -- to seamless reality. There are just a few issues to be ironed out. Source -- IDC
As Dusty said as they raced down the "IT" road, "That's awesome! That's AWESOME! " It is all part of the never-ending computing/communications information evolution (Figure 3).
Round and Round -- Perhaps the computer/communications industry is a fashion statement with ideas repackaged, redressed every five years (or so). New generations, new ideas, new hopes. Source -- zdnet.com
All of the components for cloud computing have been around for a long time. They've just been expensive, difficult to set up, tough to use unless you were some whiz IT person or a true nerd. Today, the personal systems are here. Take your choice of smartphones, notebooks, mini-laptops, broadband wireless networks and netbooks. The array of options is dizzying. The challenge is that work still needs to be done.
Whether it's in business or your personal life (not much difference anymore), each is still an island of capabilities, applications, communications, content. And there are issues like security. . . viability of the cloud service provider. . . backup of your cloud backup. . . server capacity buffer. . . security. . . service level agreement (SLA). . . exactly where your data resides. . . security. You might get a little worried if you ask them about these issues and they reassure you as Rabbit did. . . "Uh. . . yeah, trust me. Rabbit is good, Rabbit is wise."
We're not too worried about big companies and the cloud. They have scads of IT people protecting their turf. The challenge comes for small firms, start-ups and regular folks. These people have no one to turn to except the guy promising them the cloud. . . oh, and us!!! We're not saying the cloud is bad. It's just like the medicine your doc prescribes. . . the fine print can kill you!
One of the oldest firms in the cloud market is Amazon.
Analysts estimate that they already have more than 50,000 corporate customers and twice that number in individual and small business customers. The commodity business whiz has service farms built out around the globe.
Of course others that want to leverage their infrastructure investments include Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle's Sun, AT&T, Verizon and a herd of other names and acronyms.
Performance Ready -- Microsoft and other major corporations have invested heavily in server/storage farms as well as the software needed to run their firms more efficiently, more effectively. Since these firms hold power and capacity in reserve -- just in case -- it is relatively easy for them to package up computing services to rent to customers. Source -- Microsoft
Despite the IT slump, the major cloud service providers have already made a significant infrastructure investment. Opening up service for your company and you doesn't increase their costs much at all.
The Big Spend -- Established organizations have already made their investments in hardware, software, people for their operations. Added incremental investments leverage their computing capacity that they can offer to the hordes of people/firms who prefer to rent rather than buy. Source -- IDC
You see, according to McKinsey, the average data center server utilization is 10 percent. Pumping that up to 18 percent isn't that tough. If you really work at it, you can get 35 percent server utilization. And the folks we're talking about have acres and acres of servers and miles and miles of storage systems. Plus they already have the best virtualization, sales/order processing, database and accounting software and processes in place. . . they've been working out all of the kinks for years.
They're only going to charge you a small "utility" fee for working in their cloud or storing your stuff there. And they hardly ever lose stuff. . . hardly ever!!! As Haynes said as he listened to Bill and Jo argue, "I think they're getting better at this." When you embrace cloud computing, you suddenly find that your information isn't stranded on one machine. Instead, it ties into a digital cloud that you can access from a range of devices.
Available Everywhere -- Cloud computing came into its own, becoming more of a reality than wishful thinking, when the Internet entered the scene. Today, it is easy to use shared computing power and store your content anywhere and 99.8 percent of the time you can access it from anywhere.
The cloud service providers always point out the good things (yeah, like I'm going to try and sell you with the worst case scenario?):
- you can start with little, no investment and ramp up your usage as you need it
- you have all of the support of today's cloud standards
- big cloud service providers have a robust platform because it keeps their business running
- the provider has security coming out the wazoo
- they have a good reputation and a proven track record. . . they promise
The key issue for business -- any business -- is, can you trust your data, mission-critical applications to an outsider. If your business is in his business, you need to check:
- how healthy are they -- revenues, profitability, cash, customer base
- how you access your information if your data is virtualized (darn near anywhere/everywhere) or in a proprietary environment
- how much extra capacity do they maintain (server and storage) for customers (if they run with little or no buffer, guess what happens if they have to run their mission- critical job. . . and yours. GEEZZZ)
- moving from cloud to cloud isn't seamless (ideal but. . . ) so how easy is it going to be to move your apps, your database, your data
- what are you willing to risk, because if they are operating on razor-thin margins (issues of a commodity world) then they could implode or simply lose data so maybe you need a backup to your cloud. . . just in case
- SLA (Service Level Agreement) -- everyone has them but it only reimburses you if you don't have access to your data (you receive credit of X percent of your monthly bill for the time period of time you were unable to conduct business). There is no monetary reimbursement for lost business
- where exactly will files be "housed?" There are strict legal and governmental rules on where data resides. It may be in an Amazon storage farm (as an example), but the farm where your data is stored is in Britain, France, Canada, China or Washington State. Residing on discs outside the country could be costly. . . to you
Beyond the cost of service, individuals and small-medium firms have some similar concerns. As an individual, there is an inconvenience if you can't access photo or document files for a few hours. There's no real lost business. If you are using the cloud service for personal and family digital storage, consider a backup to the backup (hard drive at home, DVD archive copies to members of the family outside the area).
The area we have the greatest issue with is security. For the most part, it centers on how much and how well you trust your cloud provider. The industry spends boat loads of money on security hardware/software and better and better products, technologies, tricks to protect your stuff while it is with them. On paper, they look bulletproof, cockroach proof. . . great! Ooppss! We forgot. Anyone can buy those products, develop those technologies, develop their own tricks.
Ask any truthful security specialist and he/she will tell you their goal is to be as close behind the cyber crook as they can and hopefully stop them just before they do too much damage. As Jo observed, "Boy, not much for browsing are you?" Nope. The bad guys know what they want and how they can get it without attacking the building's front door like common thugs!
Trust comes from the faith you have in the strength of your provider's security solutions, team and testing/retesting program.
Despite the issues, Gartner expects cloud computing will top $56 billion this year to reach $150.1 billion by 2013. IDC is more cautious with $42 billion by 2012 and Merrill Lynch (previously one of the financial industry's stalwart leaders) says cloud computing will reach $160 billion in 2011. Cloud computing, by a lot of other names, has been around since literally the beginning of computing. It's getting better. You already use parts of it today -- YouTube, MySpace, blogs, Facebook, Picasa, Google, you name it. As you begin to use more cloud services and become more dependent on it for your business and yourself, you should research the areas of most concern to you when it comes to security, functionality, availability, capabilities, cost.
Determine what portions you can safely entrust with the cloud provider, what portions simply must be kept at home and what portions you have to protect across multiple providers. Then, be mentally steeled for the attack and potential loss.